10 Steps to a Stronger Professional Network

by Steven Snell

on April 5, 2010

in Business/Freelance

Networking is a critical part of building a successful freelance business. A strong network can lead to more referral business, better recognition within the industry, new opportunities, and much more. Although it isn’t the type of work that directly produces income for a freelance designer, networking should be a priority that warrants some time and attention.

In this post we’ll look at 10 things you can do if you’re looking to improve the strength of your network. This may be helpful for those who are just getting started in their careers or for people who simply want to make more of an effort to build a better network.

1. Know What You Have to Offer

One of the most common mistakes made in networking is only focusing on what you can get out of the relationship. Networking is a two-way street and must be beneficial for both people in order for it to have any long-term success. If you are focused only on what other people can do for you and on getting connected to people that can help you, you’ll be missing out on great opportunities to build strong relationships by helping others.

As you work to get to know other professionals and build your network, be sure that you know specifically what it is that you have to offer other people. As a web designer you have valuable skills and experience that many professionals would like to have as a part of their network, and your existing connections may also be very valuable to the people that you meet.

2. Look for Opportunities to Help Others

Once you know specifically what you have to offer, as you meet people you will come across some opportunities to help others in one way or another. This could include providing your services, simply offering some guidance or advice from your expertise, providing referrals, etc. Helping others is a great way to ensure that they will remember you, and it will help you to quickly become a valued part of their network.

3. Know What You are Looking for

When you are networking, whether it is online or offline, you should have some idea of the types of people that you are ideally looking to meet. This doesn’t mean that you won’t network with others that don’t fit with exactly the type of people that you are looking to meet, but it will help you to not miss valuable opportunities and it will help you to determine where you should be networking in order to meet people like this.

4. Be at the Right Places

There are plenty of places that you can network online or offline, but like everyone else I’m sure your time is limited. Since you can’t be everywhere, you’ll want to make an effort to network in places where it will have the most impact. If you’re looking to build relationships with other designers and developers you may want to focus on online networking at niche-specific sites. If you’re looking to get some new local clients you may want to focus on local networking events that will allow you to meet with people face-to-face.

Based on what you have to offer and what you are looking for, you should be able to determine some appropriate places to network. Active communities (whether online or offline) that include the type of people that you are looking to meet should be the focus.

5. Introduce People When You See Opportunities

Networking becomes very powerful and effective when you’re able to help others or benefit from the connections of others. Those people that you are building relationships with will know people that you don’t know, and you’ll know people that they don’t know. LinkedIn does a good job of showing how this can work by not only showing you the number of connections that you have, but also how people in your network are connected to others.

If you’re always looking for ways to help those who are in your network you’re bound to come across some situations where you have two contacts that you think would really benefit from being introduced. If you can help others in this way they’ll likely keep you in mind and return the favor when the opportunity arises.

6. Pursue Collaborations

One of the best ways to build a stronger network is to work on projects with others. Working together will help you to get to know each other better and to allow each person to focus on his/her strengths. The most successful collaborations will typically involve two or more people who share a common goal or vision for a project but have different strengths and weaknesses.

7. Be Proactive

If you really want to have a stronger network the most important thing you can do is take action. Get out and meet other people, introduce yourself, send an email, make a phone call. Some people are intimidated by networking (especially when just getting started) but taking action is far better than sitting around and waiting for others to approach you.

8. Focus on Depth of Relationships

The strength of your network is not dependant upon the number of people that you know or how many friends you have on any social network. What is far more important is the quality of relationships that you have developed and the type of people that are in your network. The people that you build relationships with (for networking purposes) should be a good fit with what you have to offer and what you are looking for from others.

9. Be Realistic

When approaching people and working to make connections, keep in mind that some people who are well known and very well connected will have limited time available and they are probably approached by several people each day. If you’re just getting started in your career get to know other people who are at a similar stage, and network with more established professionals as you have the opportunity. Your network doesn’t have to consist of a lot of people who are well known in the industry in order for it to be effective.

10. Use Twitter

Twitter’s popularity has obviously grown significantly over the past year or two, but it is especially popular within the design community. Almost every designer is on Twitter, which means you are missing out on opportunities if you’re not using it.

What’s Your Advice?

If you have any networking tips that you would like to share with readers please leave a comment.

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About Steven Snell

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design. Connect with Stephen on google+